January 2014

Pebbles in the River–Random Thoughts on Fanon and the Secret Agenda of ArtsOne

Fanon’s book White Masks, Black Skin speaks of how the Black Subject is forced, either wittingly or unwittingly by the colonizer, into an inferiority complex who will hence strive to imitate the culture of the colonizer.

In the same way, the Black Subject’s culture and mores are like the black stones on the bottom of a white water river. Day by day they are washed over with the culture of the White Man, gradually chipping them down. Gradually shining them (i.e. making them white). Those stones who manage to chip away–those black men who break free of their native country and culture–are washed down the river, swept away in the torrent of the White Man’s culture, rejoicing in their new-found freedom. Yet it is not so easy for a pebble to reattach itself to its source-stone.

I do believe that Fanon’s book is a product of its time. For example, his proposition that “a normal Negro child, having grown up in a normal Negro family, will become abnormal on the slightest contact of the white world” (122) is I think quite irrelevant to modern society.

However, I’d like to give more credit to Fanon than I think a lot of people are giving him. In particular, his usage of the term “the Other” is quite fascinating. It’s a commonly heard phrase nowadays that in the colloquial language has become synonymous with “discriminating”–i.e. to “Other” someone means to divide or separate, to draw a line in between two perceived groups of people with pejorative connotations. Fanon seems to do a semi-reversal.

In his quote: “His [the black man’s] actions are destined for the ‘the Other’ (in the guise of the white man), since only ‘the Other’ can enhance his status and give him self-esteem at the ethical level.” (132), the Other is now seen as a telos, an end goal so to speak. He uses the term almost antithetically to the modern usage: that the Other is not perceived as something to be feared, ridiculed, hated, an anti-telos of sorts, but is rather viewed as something good, positive, meaningful.

In this view, Henri Christophe in Cesaire’s The King of King Christophe can be seen as a pebble in the white waters of European culture, striving for to be the Other. What was once the “Other” in the bad sense of the word has now reversed itself and has become the telos of his new nation, for his hubris drives him to strive for that prestige and wealth which the white culture will bring him. Freud might call this reversal of affect; some sort of desire (wealth and prestige of French culture) is pushed down into the unconscious but manifests itself in the opposite way (enmity towards French culture)–but then again Freud is Freud, and I think we will leave it at that.

At the end of the day, I can’t help feel that all this is just pointless nonsense–albeit interesting pointless nonsense. Having read all these works of literature that all have ties to structuralism, I’m getting the feeling that ArtsOne has a secret agenda of persuading its readers that there’s no free will.

Not that I have a problem with that.

Dress, Balls, Flirtations and Quizzes

There’s a great many things that Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen isn’t. An interesting novel to read is one of them.

On the other hand, Northanger Abbey in my opinion is somewhat of a good social commentary on the times, but not just of 19th century England but unwittingly of 21st century culture as well. One can’t help but replace Miss Thorpe’s talk of “dress, balls, flirtations and quizzies” on pg. 20 with the fashion, clubs, and grinding of the modern era. Still have yet to find out what all this “quizzing” is about though.

Anyway, this remarkable similarity between the way that the characters in the novel act and the way that the people I know in real life act is what I took from this book. For instance, the way the characters talked with an air of false friendliness and a healthy dose of unnecessary superlatives is all too familiar. Behind all the flattery and niceness, who really is your friend?

Another parallel between the book and the modern age that I found is the popularity of new media produced by the ever-improving printing press and how that relates to the new media of the 21st century. Just like how the use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media have redefined the way we think and act and have caused quite a bit a controversy is similar to how the impact of mass printed books sent ripples down society. “The printing press will be downfall of humanity!” they said, is no different than UBC President Stephen Toope saying that Twitter is “the greatest ill facing the world today.”